I am delighted to have this opportunity to address the House at the fag end of what has been for all of us a long and strained session.
I am grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for Transport not merely for being here to answer my points, which inevitably will be of a local and parochial nature, on problems facing my constituents in the Allestree district of Derby; I should also like to thank her, on behalf of my constituents and the city in general, for the time she took in coming to Derby to honour an obligation given by one of her predecessors to hear some of their problems at first hand. Today the hon. Lady will know what I am talking about and why I have seen fit to raise the matter.
The saga of the Allestree link road is a very long one. It goes back over 13 years. Some of the problems, which have intensified over that time, partly arise from the feeling, which it is only fair to put on the record again today, that we were, under previous Conservative and Labour Administrations, misled about the intentions of the Department of Transport—the Department of the Environment, as it then was. We were misled in the sense that we did not know and could not know, when the original proposals for piecemeal road improvement in Derby took place, that what was intended, when the eventual master plan was brought through, was a trunk road which went through the northern suburbs of my constituency.
There are arguments for and against road improvements. There are certainly strong arguments for the improvement of the route from Leeds to Exeter, from Birmingham to Leeds—the A38, the A61, or whatever we choose to call it. Whether those arguments necessarily should ever have been followed with the decision to drive the road through the centre of a residential area, and to do it by subterfuge, which was what originally happened—because there was no formal announcement that this grand strategy was in the mind of the Department in the late 1960s—will always be open to question. However, it has happened. It was described at one of the many public inquiries there have been about the scheme as "planning by attrition", and I think that is what it was.
I have consistently opposed the scheme. I now accept, as do those of my constituents who live along the road, that it must go through. We have preserved a section of the Markeaton Park and eliminated some of the worst environmental damage that would have been caused at the Ashbourne Road roundabout. The road must be finished as expeditiously as possible consistent with tolerable living conditions for those people living along the line of the road.
Many people's houses were demolished. Other people find the living conditions along the line of the road almost intolerable. As a result, I am dealing with the problems of constituents who have faced difficulties for months as the road construction reached its crescendo. I am talking about people who have lived for a decade with the day-to-day agony of whether the road should be built, what route it should take and what impact it would have on the environment and their lives.
My constituents have brought me their problems over the link road and its construction for about 10 or 11 years. That is the measure of the difficulties that they have faced. The heaviest blow in the construction of the road and the alteration of the physical environment was always likely to fall on people living at either end, as the road is to be in a deep cutting. When the construction is completed those who live along the middle section, I suspect. will be able to live with the result. They will be shielded from the worst of the noise as the road becomes more intensively used and they will have less visual intrusion because of the cutting.
People at either end of the road face real difficulties. They bear the brunt of the construction and the worst of the demolition of their neighbours' houses and their immediate environment. When the road is completed it is at the ends that the noise and visual intrusion will be at their worst.
I turn to the difficulties that face my constituents. Undertakings have been given to them by the Department of Transport, the road construction unit and, on some occasions, the city council. Their problem is having those undertakings honoured.
The Minister will be familiar with some of the arguments, because she heard them when she came to the area. She met some of my constituents at the Court restaurant at one end of the road. The general picture will be clear to her. There is the issue of the hours worked on the road. We accept that there is a need to finish the road in a reasonable time, to keep it on schedule and to allow the contractor to do all that he can in a drive for completion on time consistent with the undertakings given when the contracts were originally signed and delivered.
I want to discuss those undertakings. Some of my constituents received letters to the effect that, although the conditions would be hard at the time of construction, they would be mitigated by the fact that there would be a limit of five and a half day working.
I quote from a letter received by Mr. Roe, one of ray constituents, on 1 April 1981—All Fools Day, unhappily—from K.F. Watt of the Department of Transport:
I confirm that the working hours for the contractor's plant will be, except in emergencies, from Monday to Friday inclusive between the hours of 7 am and 7 pm and on Saturday, between the hours of 8 am and 12 noon. An equivalent continuous noise level of 75 dB is permitted, with a maximum noise level of 30 dB at any one time.
That was also the impression given at a public meeting by Midland road construction unit officials and was certainly the impression given to the city council. I checked that with officials in the environmental health officer's department this morning. Throughout, they, Ike me, believed that the working would be limited to five and a half days. That has not been the case.
The contract given to Tarmac does not preclude six and a half day working, which is what has been taken up. For people subjected to such a blitz, who, because of the noise and intrusion feel that they might be living on the East Falklands, the remission is not great. They were sent a letter in February stating that because of the urgent need to finish the road by the autumn of 1983 it was necessary to have six and a half day working. With the conditions there and the weather, and given the other problems to which I shall refer, that is intolerable.
The road working should be limited to five and a half days and there should be stricter restrictions on the volume, intensity and accessibility of the contractors' traffic. On 24 March the Minister kindly wrote to me about the problems of Maxwell Avenue at one end of the route stating that steps were being taken to prohibit contractors' traffic. I have had conversations with my constituents overnight to make sure that I am up to date. I have been told by inhabitants of Maxwell Avenue that they are still suffering from the contractors' traffic. They have taken the vehicle numbers and communicated them to local department officials.
Undertakings should be honoured. If the period of construction is extended by days or weeks for the people who are bearing the brunt of the construction at both ends of the road, action should be taken to see that the obligations are carried out.
I believe that when the Minister came to Derby she undertook to my constituents that sound barriers would be in place forthwith. That has not happened. The sound barriers in the vicinity of Maxwell Avenue, where the noise has been the worst, are not in place. I checked with the environmental health office in Derby today. It is constantly told that the barriers will be put up. As long as they are not there most of the other undertakings lose their force. My constituents feel that they are suffering now the worst of the construction. In a My summer the problem is aggravated by the dust generated by intense roadworks without the necessary alterations.
In correspondence with my constituents going back to 1978 it has been clearly stated that sound insulation would be in place in the houses along the route, provided that the decibel level stated in the regulations is reached, before the worst of the construction. The undertaking has force and merit only if a negotiating position is left open to the householder. Mr. and Mrs. Wood at one end of the road and Mr. and Mrs. Lazzari in Maxwell Avenue at the other end have encountered special problems. Their negotiations for sound insulation have been hampered—although both are now almost complete—first, by the fact that there was no permitted margin for separate estimates, or alternative methods of insulation allowed, and, secondly, that the negotiations were so protracted that they overlapped by months the work of the construction.
The house occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Wood is very unusual. It has large bow windows of exceptional design. When we consider buildings in Derby going back to the 1920s and 1930s it is a house that we shall list as having architectural interest. The double glazing and noise insulation offered to Mr. and Mrs. Wood was not suitable for a house of that construction with unusual windows. With a take-it-or-leave-it attitude towards the people concerned, clearly the Department can sit for months or, if necessary, years and say "This is what you can have or you don't have anything." Meanwhile, the noise and disturbance get worse.
The Minister will have seen the state of Mr. and Mrs. Wood's property, although in the last fortnight they have signed an agreement for double glazing. But the point is that when one sets the enormous cost for such a road against the comparatively small cost of proper noise insulation for a few dozen, or even a hundred, householders along the route who have suffered traumas for the past 10 or 11 years, not knowing whether their houses will stand or fall and not knowing the line of the road or the outcome of the various inquiries, surely it should be possible for the Department to be more generous in the insulation allowed. Such road projects should not go through until an agreement is reached between the householders along the route and the Department of Transport and its local agents so that protection will be guaranteed to the householders before, not during or after, the worst period of construction.
Those are the problems that my constituents along the route are now facing. They have put their feelings strongly to me. The undertakings that they received before and at the commencement of the construction work have not been honoured. Although they accept, as I do, the need for the road to be finished, they believe that their living environment should have been taken into consideration far more than was the case.
They also tell me that although they are extremely grateful to the Minister for looking at the conditions for herself, they hope that she will be able to return to her Department and ensure that the undertaking she gave to a group of the householders during her visit will be carried out, not in a matter of months but in days, or, at the most, weeks.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) for giving me the opportunity to tell the House about progress on the construction of the Derby ring road to Allestree improvement scheme. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks about my visit. I found it interesting and extremely useful. No Minister reading papers in an office can understand the situation as fully as when on site in the wind, with the mud, and hearing the contractors at work.
We all accept that urban schemes are the most difficult. This scheme is the last important link in a series of schemes to improve the A38 trunk road between the West Midlands conurbation and the M1 motorway east of Alfreton. When completed it will form a high standard dual carriageway road from Birmingham via Barton and Derby to the M1 near Alfreton.
As the hon. Gentleman said, initial proposals for the scheme were first published as long ago as 1971. Over the years there has been much support for the scheme from people who live along three roads—Queensway, Broadway and Duffield Road, Allestree. That is the line of the A38. Those people suffer greatly from the trunk road traffic that travels daily in large volumes in both directions along those roads. But there was also considerable opposition to the scheme, before the final decisions were taken, from those who live in the area through which the new road will run, and from the city council.
In the 10 years between publication of the proposals and the start of construction the scheme has been the subject of two major public inquiries and the hon. Member appeared at both. He knows that at each the need for the scheme was fully debated. Because of the strength of feeling locally the first orders for the scheme, although made, were withdrawn early in 1975. Fresh proposals, incorporating a number of environmental protection features, were published in July 1976. They were debated at a public inquiry in 1978. As a result of that inquiry, a grade-separated junction at Ashbourne Road was omitted from the scheme on the recommendation of the inspector. The statutory procedures relating to the provision of a ground level roundabout there instead have now been completed.
The scheme is clearly needed to remove heavy through traffic from Broadway, Queensway and Duffield Road. Removal of that traffic will greatly improve living conditions and safety for the 200 households fronting the present road. Other people in the vicinity will also benefit. I am thinking of the children attending schools along Duffield Road and the students at the Derby Lonsdale college of higher education. Everyone, especially the old people, who live at the Leylands old people's home, will also find crossing Broadway an easier task.
Despite the benefits that will accrue on the completion of the scheme, there are difficulties in the interim for those living near the site. The construction of new and improved roads brings great benefits to the nation, as well as to local communities, but considerable inconvenience is caused while the works are in progress and we are concerned about that. It is a particular problem when the road is in a residential area, as is the road about which the hon. Gentleman is concerned.
Unfortunately, it is impossible to carry out major civil engineering works on such a scale in an urban area without causing disturbance and inconvenience. I saw something of that when I visited Derby last month. Some of the more unpleasant aspects include noise from construction plant, dust in the summer and mud whenever it rains.
The contractor is using large earth-moving plant and will continue to do so through the summer and into the autumn, for forming embankment, cutting and the creation of the earth mounds. Though their construction is causing a lot of nuisance, the earthworks will mean less noise and visual intrusion for local residents when the road is eventually opened to traffic. We have to move the earth to create the barrier against traffic noise.
One of the ways to reduce the impact on the environment was to put the road in cutting. To construct the 3·5 kilometres of dual two-lane carriageway the contractor has had to strip approximately 36,000 cubic metres of top soil and will excavate about 455,000 cubic metres of material, including rock. The works include the excavation of a deep cutting from the Abbey Hill roundabout through to Kedleston Road at the northern end of the works.
All that is excavated has to be taken from the site, which is a further problem for people living at either end of the route, as the hon. Gentleman has explained. The digging out and removing of large quantities of earth is crucial. With the earthmounds being incorporated in the scheme and landscaping work to be done at Markeaton Park, to reduce the visual impact of the eventual road and to protect residents against noise when the road is finished there is more soil to be disposed of than can possibly be used in the works. That is why we have had to use large lorries to take the material to suitable tipping sites. This has undoubtedly added to local traffic congestion and to the problems faced by residents. We have tried to avoid the worst effects by temporary diversions signs. They have been erected on the northbound carriageway of the A38 at Kingsway and for southbound traffic on the M1 at Alfreton.
These signs warn of possible delays on the A38. Earlier this year, it was necessary to operate single-way working on Queensway when a new foul sewer was constructed. This caused considerable traffic delays at the time when temporary traffic lights had to used. The work has now been completed and it is not likely that single-way working will be necessary again for any prolonged period.
Recognising the impact that construction works would have on the area, special access roads for site traffic were agreed in advance with the local highway authority, the Derbyshire county council. Construction traffic is therefore limited to a small number of specific routes most of which are already major traffic routes. I have, however, noted what the hon. Gentleman has said about Maxwell Avenue. I gave instructions when I visited the site, and was assured that construction traffic would not be using Maxwell Avenue except for a short period when the turning junction at the end of Maxwell Avenue had to be constructed. I shall look into the matter again to see why all the intentions of both the Department and the supervising engineers have not been carried through.
I have already remarked that the problems of Maxwell Avenue may not yet be resolved. But we could not, in the first place, ban construction traffic from that road. Some traffic had to be taken along it in order to carry out some specific works. The prohibition notice and the temporary fence are still in position, so far as I know. Certainly that was the case in April. That is why I have said that I will look into the matter again.
There are also the other roads, Ferrers Way and Slack Lane. Ferrers Way has had to be closed for about a year while a bridge across the new road is constructed. Pedestrian action is being maintained by means of a footbridge. It will also be necessary to close Slack Lane in due course and temporary access will be available to the adjacent sports field by the road known as The Crest.
As the hon. Member remarked, he and I have been corresponding about the need for the contractor to work six and a half days a week closing down only on Saturday afternoon. At the time of the public meeting to introduce the contractors, Tarmac Ltd., to the local people, Sunday working had not been considered. However, under normal conditions of highways contracts of this sort, we cannot unreasonably withhold permission for weekend working, particularly when this has considerable advantages for the completion of the road and the shortening of the period during which the residents are to be disturbed. By working on Sundays, the earthworks will be finished much more quickly and the weekday disturbance to schools and the college nearby will extend over a shorter period. Without Sunday working, I am informed that the earthworks would have continued well into next year and might well have delayed the eventual completion of the road itself and thereby the relief of the existing A38 from the current much too heavy load of traffic.
We have already sought to minimise the disturbance, but there should be fewer weekdays over the period of the contract when traffic will suffer delays as a result of the works. I shall look again at the matter for the hon. Gentleman and his constituents who have suffered but I am loth to lose time in bringing relief not only to those who are suffering the construction work at present but to these people living along the existing A38.
Indeed. I am sorry that there was not more foresight. The job may have proved to be more extensive, certainly as regards earth moving, than may have been foreseen in the first place. It is an enormous job. In fact, it is one of the largest that the Department is undertaking anywhere in the country. Nevertheless, it is incumbent upon us now to complete the work as speedily as possible.
Before we agreed to Sunday working, the environmental health officer was consulted by my Department about the proposals. He, in turn, consulted 200 of the worst affected residents. The environmental health department has powers, under the Control of Pollution Act, to control construction noise, where appropriate, and these are additional to the condition of working already included in my Department's contract with Tarmac Ltd. Already the environmental health department has exercised its powers. For example, it stopped the use of pumps on one occasion until acoustic sheds were provided. One of the worst problems facing local residents is the noise created by the contractors' plant and vehicles. That problem has been the most serious in the Maxwell Avenue area. I arranged last month for Sunday working to cease there until such time as the excessive noise being created can be screened.
I gathered from what the hon. Gentleman said that Sunday working may not have ceased at the site, pending the erection of the screens. If that is so, instructions will be given again, and the site will be inspected by officials of my Department to ensure that the relief that we intended to bring to Maxwell Avenue residents is being effected. Having met Mrs. Lazzari, who lives in Maxwell Avenue, I am well aware of the problems that are faced by her and other residents at the end of the road, as the hon. Gentleman explained.
I want to say a few words about insulation. We have discretionary powers relating to noise from the construction works. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have already offered to insulate 194 properties by means of double glazing, and more are to be insulated in connection with the Ashborne Road roundabout works. Three times as many properties have been insulated against construction noise as are likely to qualify for insulation solely as a result of an increase in traffic noise from the eventual road. We have sought to put in sound insulation, wherever possible, before construction. I know that in some cases that has not been possible.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned Mr. Wood's house, with its beautiful windows which are difficult to insulate. I hope that the work will go ahead quickly. Our intention was to insulate prior to construction, and it has been carried through as quickly as possible. One of the local residents told me that, although there had been initial problems with the siting of the double glazing in some homes, the work that was now being carried out to finalise the double glazing was entirely satisfactory, and other residents agreed with that. There was an unhappy start, but the matter is now being successfully concluded.
Altogether we are spending £½ million on measures to deal with noise—earthmounds, noise fences and insulation of properties. All these measures have been planned for some time. Long before construction work started, an assessment was made of all those properties that could be expected to experience an equivalent day-time sound level at or above 75 dBA LEQ. The assessment assumed the worst possible conditions, that is, the situation before noise barriers or earth mounds had been constructed. That was in keeping with our intention to reduce the environmental impact of the scheme as much as possible. That is how we identified the properties that should be offered double glazing. We have been trying to keep an eye on the situation ever since the works began. I shall ask for more information after the debate in the light of the hon. Gentleman's comments.
Recently, site staff have regularly checked construction noise levels to ensure that they do not exceed the limits laid down in the contract. On Mondays to Fridays, between 7 am and 7 pm and on Saturdays between 8 am and noon, the limit, at 60 metres or more from the site boundary, is equivalent to a continuous sound level of 75 dBA with a maximum of 80 dBA at any time. That is roughly the level of noise one would experience on a normal weekday on the pavement of a busy urban trunk road, a level still all too familiar to people who live on or regularly walk along Duffield Road in Derby—the existing A38.
As agreed with the environmental health officer, on Sundays the contractor is limited to noise levels that are generally some 5 dBA lower than the weekday levels.
I am satisfied that levels of noise are being kept below the maxima. This is due, in part, to the contractor, wherever possible, using smaller and quieter plant than is usual. Nevertheless, I am aware of how all-pervading the continuous noise must be.
One of the criticisms that I have received concerned the operation of water pumps all night long. Sadly, the pumping is essential to keeping the new works free of water. It is especially important in the Markeaton Park area where the lake and a stream are a particular problem. Now that acoustic sheds have been provided, it should no longer be a serious nuisance. Compressors have also been provided with acoustic covers that are to be kept closed. The contractors have been reminded of the need to use and keep acoustic covers and sheds closed at all times.
I should like to say a little more about the installation of double glazing. We first had properties in the area surveyed to establish those that were eligible for traffic and construction noise insulation. Following widespread publicity about the noise insulation available, some 220 properties eventually qualified to some degree.
Each facade of a property is assessed individually. Generally only the facades facing the works are eligible. Where two or more facades face the works, double glazing has been offered for each. In some cases the whole of a property has been eligible for double glazing of the main rooms of the house. People who were not happy with what was being offered to them were asked to let us know. They were visited and the reasons behind the offer were explained on each occasion. The visits have resulted in some reassessments, and the offer of additional double glazing. I should appreciate the hon. Gentleman letting us know if there are instances where that has not been completed.
Installation of double glazing began in June 1981—three months before the start of construction work—and should have been completed by last September. There were difficulties in obtaining suitable materials and in installation. It has taken longer than anticipated and in a few cases it was necessary to replace or repair original installations. All the properties insulated under the contract have been inspected by the Department's agent and no installation has been declared satisfactory until any faults that have been found have been rectified. A further 23 properties in the vicinity of the Ashbourne Road roundabout are currently being insulated against construction noise. Work there is to begin next month.
Last month, I appeared on BBC Radio Derby's "phone-in" programme and talked directly with many people about the way in which construction was proceeding. Many people said that they thought that we were doing well in keeping the disturbance to a minimum, but inevitably there were several distressing cases and I met some of the people involved. My Department is examining those individual cases closely to see what can be done to help the people concerned. I am glad to say that the work of our liaison officer was particularly applauded and I am grateful to him for being the man on the ground who receives the brickbats more often than the praise. He certainly deserves praise for what he has been able to sort out.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the sound barriers. I said in Derby that there had been some criticism because the noise fence at Maxwell Avenue had not yet been erected. I said that we would do all that we could to expedite that. The delay was primarily because the specialised materials to form the sound barrier had not been obtained at that time. I believe that they have now been obtained, even if they are not yet in position. With the hon. Gentleman's most recent knowledge given to me today, however, I shall look into the matter again at the beginning of next week. I well understand that it is now four weeks since I said that I would expedite the work and that that must give cause for alarm.
I have already mentioned the nuisance of mud on the road and of dust during dry spells. The contractor is already required by the terms of his contract to do his best to control nuisances, and I know that mechanical sweepers have been provided to deal with mud and bowlers for damping down the dust. Inevitably, however, when one damps down dust one creates mud, so there is a double problem. Inevitably, too, the recent dry weather has made the situation worse. I am satisfied that the contractor is doing his best, but I have asked that the resident engineer should watch the situation very carefully.
I fully understand why the hon. Gentleman has raised with me the subject of the effects of this road construction work on his constituents at Allestree. I wish to make sure that he realises that I fully share their concern, having seen the situation for myself. I feel particularly for those who may be deprived of the enjoyment of their gardens this summer. Here, regrettably, the noise intrusion cannot be helped in the short term. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that, due to weather conditions, the work must be done in a summer period. The sooner that we can get the job done, the better.
I appreciate all that the Minister has said. On the question of the enjoyment of gardens, she will be aware that some gardens have been devastated by a combination of the dust raised and the drought. Will the Department consider the material damage caused with a view perhaps to compensation in exceptional circumstances?
I shall certainly ask the resident engineers to look into the matter. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman any firm assurance on that, but we have been very conscious, especially in the fine weather of recent weeks, that a number of people have suffered even more than might have been anticipated. We must bear in mind that we are seeking to alleviate the problems for the long term ahead. Nevertheless, it may be possible to help the short-term disturbance and I shall certainly investigate that.
I have already said that in certain cases, if conditions become intolerable, depending on the circumstances, we can arrange for temporary alternative accommodation to be paid for by the Department during periods in which conditions are particularly bad for people living immediately adjacent to the works. Offers of this kind have already been made to a number of residents, but so far all have preferred to remain in their homes and to put up with the inconvenience. The resident engineer's staff on the site will keep in touch with those worst affected and be as helpful as they possibly can.
Despite the short-term problems for local residents, I believe that the scheme can bring real long-term benefits to the citizens of Derby and to all who need to pass that way. As the hon. Gentleman knows, however, at present I am more concerned about the disturbance caused to local people.
I remain convinced that we are taking the right steps to keep the impact of the scheme as low as possible, but there is no way that we can do a construction job of this enormity without there being disturbance. I think that when the road is open to traffic, not only will all those who have been so severely disturbed be relieved, but it may be seen more in balance than it is possible to see it at present with all the disruption.
Finally, I am well aware that the hours of work, the problems at the ends of the cutting and the question of insulation and the erection of sound barriers all continue to be irritants for the hon. Gentleman's constituents. We shall do our best, through the good offices of the site engineer, to minimise those. As the hon. Gentleman knows, not all the problems can be removed, but I shall see what further steps can be taken as the weeks go by to minimise the real disturbance that all his constituents are suffering. I hope that he will assure them of my intentions.